Jonah 1-4: Today’s sermon is entitled “A God of Second Chances.” And “Outrageous Grace.” Is there a better story in the Bible than the story of Jonah? Generations of Sunday school children have listened this story with wide-eyed amazement. The story of the fish that caught a man. We love this story, yet we barely understand what it means.
This morning we touch upon some key verses and points in order to gain an overview of the central message that God wants to reveal. The book of Jonah is a glance into the second chance that God is longing to extend to all people through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
Let’s start with the words of the French philosopher Pascal: To make a man a saint, grace is absolutely necessary. And whoever doubts it, does not know what a saint is or what a man is.
A true story. Jonah is a true story. We can date the book at about 765 B.C. during the days of Jeroboam II, king of Israel. Jonah came from the northern part of Israel, in the region the New Testament calls Galilee. It is not far from village of Nazareth where Jesus grew up.
A short story. Only four chapters, 48 verses, just over 1300 words. You can read it in 15 minutes. Yet it tells us all we need to know. Beautifully balanced, deep and profound, this book opens a window into the heart of God.
Here’s a simple outline to help us understand the flow of the story: In chapter 1 Jonah is running from God; 2 he is praying to God; 3 he is speaking for God; 4 he is learning about God. As we begin our journey with Jonah, let’s clarify one point. Jonah is not the hero of the story. God is! At the beginning he is running from God; at the end he is arguing with God. In between he is praying and preaching.
This book is about God. We can see it clearly this way: The fish is mentioned 4 times. The city is mentioned 9 times. Jonah is mentioned 18 times. God is mentioned 38 times. This book is about God and how great his heart is toward prodigal/wasteful sons and daughters who run away from him. We call this book one of the minor prophets. It’s really a book about Jonah and God. We know that our Lord loved this story because Jonah is the only minor prophet Jesus mentioned by name (Matthew 12:40).
I’m sure most of us have taken a ship to Tarshish at one time or another. We all know what it means to run the other way. And we know how creative the Lord can be when he wants to bring us back to where we ought to be. There’s a little Jonah in all of us and a whole lot of Jonah in most of us. That’s why we need, not just grace, but outrageous (greatly exceeding) grace.
(Exodus 34:6) says that he is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,” and that’s good news for sinners everywhere. Nothing more clearly summarizes the true meaning of grace than the simple phrase found Jonah 2:9, “Salvation is of the Lord.” You know what…the problem is …Grace is hard to accept, hard to believe, and hard to receive.
Jonah Was Disobedient to the Lord (1:1-3)
Right here we see that God told Jonah to preach in the city of Ninevah, but Jonah was disobedient and ran away. We read here that he fled to the city of Tarshish from the seaport of Joppa. These two cities were on the complete opposite sides of the known world at that time. Jonah took a complete U-turn and went in a totally opposite direction of God’s will. God said, “Go east.” Jonah said, “I’m going west.” Because the Lord asked him to do something that he didn’t want to do and that he didn’t understand. He deliberately disobeyed.
It’s a long way from Joppa to Tarshish. It’s not like they had a boat leaving for Tarshish every day. Think about that. When we decide to disobey God, there is always a boat going to Tarshish.
And there is always room for one more passenger.
When we decide to run from the Lord, Satan is happy to provide the transportation.
Whenever we decide to disobey, we can always find an excuse. It’s easy to justify wrong-doing by cloaking/masking it in religious language.
How Far? As we stand back and look at this story, a question naturally arises. How far will God let us go in sin? I don’t think anyone knows the full answer, but it appears that sometimes the answer is that God will let us go pretty far. He does not always stop us quickly.
Sometimes the judgment of God is simply that God lets us go on and on in our sin so that we have to face the consequences of our own disobedience. This is the “severe mercy” of the Lord. That’s what Romans 1 means, when it repeatedly says that “God gave them over” (Romans 1:24,26,28). When a society decides that it doesn’t need God, his response is not always to bring out the lightning and thunder. More often than not, God says, “If you want to jump off the cliff, I have warned you time and again, but if that’s what you want to do, I will not stop you.”
As we consider the beginning of Jonah’s sad story, remember that we can run but we can’t hide. You see, when we deliberately do sin against to God, our guilt can sometimes result in running as far away from the Lord *(Do you have this kind of experience ?). We will try to run from God, because we are hoping we can hide from His face. We can certainly run from the Lord, but we absolutely cannot hide from His presence; no way, no how.
Psalm 139:7-10 says…., We might choose to run from the Lord; but even if we do, we will still have to come face to face with God at some point or another. Whenever we run from the Lord we wind up going down, and still farther down, until we hit rock bottom. (Jonah 1:3)
God was with Jonah every step of the way. Though Jonah tried to leave the Lord, the Lord never left him.
It is the patience of God that allows us to run away.
It is the wisdom of God that provides the ship.
It is the providence of God that sends the storm.
It is the kindness of God that sends the great fish.
If God didn’t care, he would let us go on in our sin forever. As we come to the end of this message, it looks like Jonah has gotten away with it. He’s run from God, bought a ticket, and now he’s on a ship heading for Tarshish. He’s a happy and so far his plan has worked to perfection. He’s so happy that as our story ends, he’s going to take a nap (Jonah 1:5).
When we do our own thing this will only lead to death and destruction. Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Acting apart from the will of God is what the Bible calls sin, and Romans 6:23 , “The wages of sin is death,” meaning spiritual death. As we will see, because Jonah ran from the Lord and entered a downward spiral, he was going to have an encounter with death. I want to stop here. As we wrap up this message, here are three thoughts to ponder:
Three Final Thoughts(Lessons)
- Every step out of the will of God is a downward step. No one ever disobeyed God and went up. You only go down. “Down” to Joppa. “Down” into the ship. “Down” into the sea. “Down” in the belly of the great fish. Any time you run from God, you never go “up”; you always go “down.”
- We get away quickly, we recover slowly. It’s easy to go down, easy to get off the right path, easy to fall into sin. But the road back is difficult and often very painful.
- Satan can work through circumstances just like God can. Satan has his ships, and he always has room on his ships. His ships always go where we want to go when we’re running from God. He can make disobedience look good by means of favorable circumstances.
As he gets ready to take a nap, Jonah may have thought, “Things are going so well for me. This must be God’s will.” But if he thought that, he was wrong. The Lord had already made his will clear. No set of favorable circumstances can override what God has clearly said. Down deep he knew God’s will. He just didn’t want to do it.
I began by saying that I am calling this Jonah “Outrageous Grace.” You may wonder, “Where is the grace of God in this story?” The answer is simple. He let Jonah disobey. He didn’t kill him on the spot. He gave him the freedom to mess up his own life. That didn’t seem like grace at the time, but it was. God works even in the midst of our disobedience to bring us to himself. Sometimes God lets us go way off course so that when we finally see our sin for what it is, we are ready to return to the Lord.
Meanwhile Jonah’s disobedience looks pretty good so far. “Happy sailing, Jonah. Watch out for that big fish.”
This is how life really works. Sin looks good for a while. Jonah experienced the “pleasures of sin for a season.” If sin always brought immediate misery, it would be a lot less attractive to us. Stolen water may be sweet, but it leads you to the gates of hell.
The bitterness comes later. The sadness comes later. Sin is fun for a while. Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Jonah is about to find that out the hard way. We will see the rest of the story some other time.
Father, we’re glad that your grace is greater than our sin. Some of us have loved ones who seem to be living the high life on the ship to Tarshish. Some people seem to have gotten away with disobedience. Maybe some of us right now are looking to take a ride on a ship heading for Tarshish. Speak to us. Wake us up. Help us to believe more deeply in your outrageous grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.